The Annual of the Association for Documentary Editing
2013, Volume 34
"Will not these days be by thy poets sung": Poems of the Anglo-African and National Anti-Slavery Standard, 1863–1864Edited by Elizabeth Lorang and R. J. Weir
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For the Anglo-African.
THE FAST GOD HATH APPOINTED.
The fast that I have chosen,* The Great Jehovah asks, Is it a day appointed For ceremonial tasks?
Is it with voice exalted In words of prayer to cry, Or, bringing vain oblations, To stretch the hands on high?
Nay; never fast most solemn Jehovah yet has blest, Whilst on the hands uplifted Clung blood of the oppressed.
The fast that God has chosen, Bids Mercy's loving art To gently lift the fallen, To heal the bruised heart.
The fast that God has chosen, The one High Heaven ordains, Is with the hand of Justice To break the bondman's chains.
Then, night's dark pall dispelling, The King of day shall rise, And peaceful pæans echo Triumphant from the skies.Saddle River, New Jersey, April 30th, 1863.
- Alfred P. Smith (1832–1901), journalist and editor. Born in Saddle River, New Jersey, the son of day laborer and farmer Peter, Alfred Smith received a public school education (David Steven Cohen, "Alfred P. Smith: Bergen County's Latter-Day Ben Franklin," Journal of Rutgers University Libraries 38 : 23–24). In the winter of 1858–59, Smith petitioned New Jersey's state legislature to "take the initiatory steps to give colored persons the right of suffrage" (Minutes of Votes and Proceedings of the Eighty-Third General Assembly of the State of New Jersey, Convened at Trenton, Jan. 11, 1859 [Salem, NJ: Sharp, 1859], 388). During the war years, he contributed letters to the Paterson Daily Guardian. The Anglo-African printed a cluster of poems attributed to Smith over a seven-month period in 1863: "A Tribute: In Memory of Edward M. Thomas" (April 18, 1863); "The Patriot's Vow" (May 16, 1863); "The Fast God Hath Appointed" (May 30, 1863); "The Louisiana Native Guard at Port Hudson" (August 8, 1863); "To A Young Friend" (August 15, 1863); and "A War Song for the Black Volunteers" (October 10, 1863). Smith's Anglo-African verse expresses his strong support for African American soldiers. Earlier in the war, he took a public stand against colonization schemes (see "Letter to the President," Paterson Daily Guardian, reprinted in Douglass' Monthly, October 1862, [730–31].According to T. Robins Brown and Schuyler Warmflash, from 1876 until his death, Smith took care of his widowed mother and largely stayed at home, because of "increased disability" (The Architecture of Bergen County, New Jersey: The Colonial Period to the Twentieth Century [New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2001], 170). At home, however, he worked a press and established A. P. Smith's Paper in 1881. The title, reminiscent of Frederick Douglass' Paper, did not last long; Smith renamed his publication The Landscape: A Country Newspaper in 1882. The monthly ran until July 1901.
- Smith's poem is dated "April 30th, 1863." When Abraham Lincoln proclaimed April 30, 1863, as a "day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer," he encouraged Northerners to seek forgiveness for "national sins" in the hope of securing God's "clemency" (Roy P. Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln [New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953], 6:156). This fast was the second of three national fasts which Lincoln declared during the war (September 26, 1861; April 30, 1863; August 4, 1864).Lincoln's proclamations were supported by the weight of tradition: in the North, the public fast was "the resort of instinctive choice" when disaster struck (Harry S. Stout and Christopher Grasso, "Civil War, Religion, and Communications: The Case of Richmond," in Religion and the American Civil War, ed. Randall M. Miller, et al. [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998], 320). Of the fast on April 30, the New York Herald reported that "no previous occasion of the kind, within the memory of the present generation, was ever kept with such general accord." Public offices and private businesses were alike suspended. In the great city, "courts, post offices, custom House, mercantile exchanges, banks and all other similar places were completely closed"—so too were "stores and factories." "The religious services were the great feature of the day" (New York Herald, May 1, 1863, ).Not everyone was convinced of the value of such rituals and ceremonies. In "The Fast God Hath Appointed," Smith argued that Americans had to do more than observe the mere forms of a fast to secure God's blessing—Isaiah 58:6 ("let the oppressed go free") demanded nothing less than the abolition of slavery throughout the United States. Soon after the fast of August 1864, one of the Liberator's correspondents reiterated Smith's argument in prose. The government had no right to plead for divine aid while it refused to make a "perfect and effective" alliance with African Americans on the basis of "citizenship and equality before the law." C. K. W. concluded that "this Fast, like all the ceremonies of humiliation performed by our oppressive nation, is the offering to God of a complimentary formality in place of the discharge of that duty which we know to be incumbent on us. Surely this is not the fast that He has chosen" (Liberator, August 19, 1864).
- Isaiah 58:1–6: Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins. / Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they delight in approaching to God. / Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours. / Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice heard on high. / Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord? / Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?